Knicks Draft 2018: Don’t Love Knox. Don’t Hate Him.

The first NBA draft for the Perry/Mills/Fizdale leadership team is in the books. So I’ll get right to the point, I don’t love Knox as a prospect but I certainly see what there is to love and I don’t know that there were much better options at #9. I never pronounce judgment the day after a draft unless I think the team did something dumb. They didn’t. Debatable? Certainly, but that’s to be expected. 

What I don’t like…

Though I doubt he’ll be some Anthony Bennett-level bust who just can’t play, Knox scares me a bit as a prospect. He’s actually not very good at anything just yet. To be fair, he’s always been young for his cohort. At just over 18 now, he’s the youngest or 2nd youngest player drafted this year. So he’s being sold as a high upside pick. That’s actually the part that scares me. As my homeboy Ty says, “greatness manifests early in basketball.” Yet, as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton notes (Insider), Knox has never really been great even in his cohort at AAU, USA Basketball, or at Kentucky. I’m not a big Trae Young fan, but even ignoring his shooting, he’s an elite playmaker in his cohort. Knox has been a decent-but-not-especially-efficient scorer who contributes less to the “effort” categories (rebounds/blocks/steals) than his athletic traits lead you to expect. He also doesn’t appear to be a playmaker of any note.

What I like…

I’m actually not here to crush our (Sharpei) puppy-faced prospect. Rather, I’m here to temper talk of his upside being Durant-like. (Thanks, Chauncey and others.) Unrealistic expectations doom prospects as much as anything else. If Knox really projected to be all-NBA or even consistent all-star caliber he’d probably already be elite at some aspect of the game, even at 18. (As Michael Beasley has said of Kevin Durant, “He had that jumper in the 6th grade.”) Over two seasons of EYBL and a freshman season as Kentucky’s leading scorer, he’s not proven to be even “very good” at any one aspect of the game. Nevertheless, the skills, the smooth athleticism, and a frame that can easily hold another 15 lbs. are all undeniable (especially given NY’s desperate need for more athleticism). I can’t blame anyone for feeling confident that production will soon follow. 

To my mind, a reasonable outcome for Knox is as a quality starter who functions mostly as a weakside scorer that puts the ball on the floor well enough to keep defenses honest. Assuming the shot comes around–his stroke looks legitimately great, so let’s call that likely–the open question is whether he’ll do enough other things to not offset his shooting. Given NY’s roster (and some potential culling), he could be starting consistently in his second season. I think his body probably fills out into a big 3/stretch 4, along the lines of Danillo Gallinari. If everything breaks right he could be better, but that’s more optimistic than realistic. 

In terms of process, the Knox selection is an easily defensible one given the way the board fell. I don’t see much fault on draft night. There were no dominating alternatives waiting for the Knicks at #9. Once Atlanta flipped Doncic to Dallas for Young I don’t think there was even a vaguely realistic trade-up scenario for NY. Add to that, you look at selections 10-15 and none of them is hands-down a better prospect than Knox. He was the last guy I feel comfortable projecting as a decent starter before a talent cliff. 

  • Mikal Bridges (PHI/traded): I am solidly on Team Mikal(TM) but his limitations are well known, even if I feel like his upside (especially on defense) has been criminally undersold.
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (CHA/traded): Meh.
  • Miles Bridges (LAC/traded): He has his fans, me among them, but Knox cleaned his clock at the workout by all accounts. Certainly, if NY loved Miles he was available via trade.
  • Jerome Robinson (LAC): So, the Clippers ended up with two almost identically sized PGs?
  • Michael Porter, Jr. (DEN): I’m a Mizzou alum, and even I thought Michael Porter, Jr.’s risk profile wasn’t right for NY. It’s a legit great pick for Denver. Since they’re not going to defend at all they actually need another scorer. 
  • Troy Brown (WAS): I like Brown for them. They need bench talent so, so badly.

In the second round, NY selected Mitchell Robinson, something of a mystery man C who did not play college ball after committing to Western Kentucky. Again, given the way the board fell I have no problem with a gamble on his athletic traits. He’s 7’1″ in shoes with a 9’3″ standing reach and bouncy. It’s worth noting that his size and athleticism translated into production in the EYBL, where he rebounded and blocked his ass off. According to Pelton, he was dominant among his peers in those most translatable of box score categories. Among all EYBL players from 2012-16, Mitchell was 1st in block rate, 3rd in OREB%, and 1st in 2-pt. % (min. 150 FGAs). Yes please, and thank you. 

Evidently, NY has also signed former Arizona guard Allonzo Trier to a two-way contract. Though I’d have preferred Rawle Alkins, this is easily a worthwhile gamble.

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